These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

Stay Sharp Newsletter: February 2019

stay sharpWinter is either winding up or winding down depending on who you ask in Colorado, and the education news is no different. From our perspective, after major stories in Denver and across the state for the past two months, there is no lack of news. A+ Colorado is busy with the release of a 6-part series: Denver’s Next Journey, exploring outliers across the state and working with powering partners through our Community EdData Hub. And who could forget the launch of A+ Answers?! We are thankful to all of our readers who made January a banner month for readership and engagement.

A+ Updates

Denver’s Next Journey: Start With The Facts

Last week, A+ Colorado released Start With The Facts, the first brief of Denver’s Next Journey, a series of 6 issue briefs covering a new era of Denver Public Schools. The release saw a spike in interest from A+ audience with a 49% increase in readership compared to recent report releases.

The series will explore lingering questions and big takeaways from improvement efforts in the past as Denver stands at an important crossroads with new leadership for the first time in a decade and major debate about how students are being served.

Each brief will have a focus on equity- how initiatives have impacted different groups of students, and engagement- how families and communities have experienced these initiatives, and will dive into various areas aimed at improving Denver’s current education state for families and students.

Start with the Facts reflects on how Denver Public Schools has changed over the past 15 years exploring:

  • Denver’s changing student population
  • The widening disparities between groups of students
  • Student enrollment in Denver Public Schools over time,
  • Improved, yet inequitable academic outcomes,
  • and DPS students graduating and enrolling in postsecondary education.

Read the full report here and stay tuned for our next brief release coming next week which digs into School Improvement, as we work toward better schools in every neighborhood.

Leveraging Data To Empower Communities: Community EdData Hub

Recently, the Community EdData Hub powered a data walk on Montbello schools, hosted by TogetherCO. TogetherCO and A+ partnered to define research questions identified by parents in Montbello. The Community EdData Hub helped create a bilingual presentation, data visualizations, and facilitation of the data walk to support parent understanding of data on the community.

Adrienne Deshaies, Together Colorado’s Bilingual Community Organizer, comments on the importance of data for the community: “Often data is not made easily accessible by the district/schools, and it is important for communities to have access to it because it can 1) paint a clearer picture of the real situation rather than anecdotes and personal experience, and 2) be used as leverage to strengthen our demands…[data can] light a sense of urgency both in community members and people in power. Overall I was so impressed by the quality of the [Community EdData Hub’s] presentation.  My team and I are very grateful to you, and excited to see where the Community Data Hub idea goes!”

Interested in thinking about the ways you can incorporate data into your work? Reach out to us.

How We Evolve Education – The Best Education Party Of The Year

Last Friday, A+ Colorado hosted our second event How We Evolve Education, honoring Governor John Hickenlooper, Governor Bill Owens, and Founders of Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, Pam and Ricardo Martinez for their leadership in education and commitment to new opportunities for Colorado kids. The snow couldn’t stop over 200 people from attending and celebrating the best education party of the year. We are extremely grateful to our supporters who helped us raise over $105,000, which makes our work to improve education and make a difference in the lives of Colorado’s students possible.

Browse and share pictures from our event.

Didn’t make it to the event? You can still make a gift to support our work for Colorado’s students.

News to Share

Black History Is Our History

As we wrap up Black History Month, we are reminded that Black history is our history, not just a topic to be studied during the shortest month of the year. New York City high school teacher Jamilah Pitts, recently described how teachers can get away from teaching Black history in a silo here.

During this month, we are also pleased to see that the DPS School Board unanimously passed a resolution that would refocus district efforts on ensuring black students, families, and staff are being well-served by the district. The resolution focuses on equity building for black students in the district including having schools create a plan of action based on performance and referral data, implicit bias training for all district staff, and a district level equity audit meant to help the district focus its efforts on what’s working and create a plan to address where they are falling short. It is critical the district move beyond words to action resulting in improved achievement for Black students.

Denver’s 3-Day Teacher Strike Ends With Agreement To Increase Pay

We were very pleased that the final teacher compensation agreement between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) and Denver Public Schools (DPS) included a significant increase in pay for teachers and an increase in incentives to teach in highest-priority schools. Van Schoales, CEO of A+ Colorado, reflects on the Denver and other teacher strikes with 7 lessons learned. There is great opportunity to set the stage for a deeper set of improvements to public education that have eluded us and that the “reform” community needs to do some deep reflection on how we can better work with teachers to improve public education. We hope you found our issue guide as a helpful resource to make sense of the complexity of teacher pay. Final details on the agreement between DCTA and DPS can be found here, which 97% of DCTA members voted in favor of. Next and final step: DPS board votes to approve it.

Adams 14 – Big Decisions For The State Board

In the past few weeks, there have been major developments in the ongoing intervention in Commerce City.  The community review panel selected Mapleton Public Schools as the external management organization (EMO) that will be responsible for managing the troubled district.  Following that decision, the Adams 14 Board voted 3-2 to also select Mapleton as the EMO provider. There were two board members who initially proposed to move forward with the University of Virginia as a provider but that was voted down by the board.  The big question moving forward is whether the state board will decide to either approve, disapprove or modify the proposal. Mapleton has a track record of revitalizing school designs but has struggled to get the results students deserve. View our previously released report on Mapleton for more insights. A+ will remain focused on ensuring that whatever provider is selected has both the vision to bring the community along and the capacity to implement bold reforms to improve achievement.

Your Community, Your Schools: A Call for Partnership In Aurora Schools

The African Leadership Group (ALG) is releasing a first-ever report Your Community, Your Schools, in partnership with The Community EdData Hub, an initiative by A+ Colorado. This report will serve as a tool for families so that they can understand how schools are supporting their students to ensure they are prepared for graduation, especially in a district where outcomes for students have lagged behind in previous years.

Your Community, Your Schools examines Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast regions of Aurora with an emphasis on answering and understanding:

  • Who is in our schools?
  • How are students learning in Elementary and Middle school?
  • Are students making academic progress each year?
  • Finding different communities in the data
  • How are our students doing in high school and beyond?
  • How has APS supported struggling schools?
  • An action guide beyond report cards for families, the community, and APS

Mark your calendar for the release of Your Community, Your Schools on Friday, March 8 at 6 p.m. at the Summit Event Center in Aurora, during a celebration of International Women’s Day, where attendees will have the opportunity to hear from the African Leadership Group on key findings of how the district is serving students, alongside APS Board Vice President, Dr. Armstrong-Romero, on the importance of the role of a mother in her child’s education. RSVP to the event here.

Right To Know: We Need to Know What Works In Colorado

There is no doubt many more schools are doing remarkable work to support various groups of students, but the public does not know this because the state does not share most of the achievement data from state mandated tests. See why this is happening here and join the Right to Know movement to demand that our state share what is working in Colorado schools.

Aurora Public Schools Ends Vega’s Charter Agreement

The APS school board voted 6-0 in favor of Superintendent Rico Munn’s recommendation to end the charter agreement with Vega Collegiate Academy at the end of the school year due to a breach in contract. The decision was the culmination of several months of back and forth between the charter school and the district in response to the discovery that the school was not in compliance with special education requirements for its students. Prior to the vote, the board heard testimony in support of the school from staff, parents, and board members. In an unusual move, after the close of public comment, the board read into the record an anonymous email that was critical of the school’s operations and urged the board to close the school. School supporters have promised to appeal the decision.

Vega Collegiate Academy has had the highest growth in the district for Elementary and Middle School students in English Language Arts and Math for students qualifying for free and reduced priced lunch, emerging multilingual students and Latinx students. Their growth percentile for Math is the highest in the state, both for these groups of students and overall. 30% and 45% of their students are meeting expectations in English Language Arts and Math, respectively.

A+ Answers: How Do Colorado’s Teacher Salaries Compare To Teacher Salaries Nationwide?

Last month you asked us: How Do Colorado’s Teacher Salaries Compare To Teacher Salaries Nationwide? A+ Answers is here to deliver the answers to your questions around education in Colorado. In 2017, Colorado ranked #47 of 51 (states and D.C.). The rankings here show interesting trends across time. While the average salary has gone down since 2000, nationally, there are a few states that increased their average salaries significantly. Not only was the U.S. in an economic boom in the year 2000, but the Great Recession in 2008 significantly impacted these trends. Additionally, as always, geography affects costs of living, which is going to impact salaries. It is not surprising, therefore, that the top ranking places for teacher salaries have high costs of living. These salaries are not adjusted based off of cost of living.

As mentioned before, average teacher salaries often measure teacher experience and workforce retention, in addition to capturing these costs of living differences. In Colorado, we know that cash-strapped rural districts have lower starting salaries for teachers than more affluent towns. For these reasons, average salaries can be a challenging measure to truly understand the wage differences both within and outside of a state. We would prefer to compare salaries that held experience and credentials constant and accounted for cost of living adjustments. (For example, what does a 5th year elementary teacher with a master’s degree make in one state or district compared to others?)  Yet, even average salaries can shed light on statewide investments in teachers.

Colorado’s consistently low rating for average salary, and, importantly, the extremely low ranking based on percent change in salary, underscore the way that the state has not prioritized increasing teacher salaries. Notice that other “Red4Ed” states, such as West Virginia and Oklahoma, are amongst the lowest salaries, nationally, and haven’t seen significant growth over time either.

A+ Answers is a community-driven research and reporting project, where we answer your questions to empower community conversations about education in Colorado.

Help A+ Colorado research questions that matter to you, so we can help you make informed decisions about education in Colorado.

Ask The Next A+ Answers. Get in contact with us!


School Spotlight: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest

Last week, A+ Colorado and Climb Higher Colorado conducted a joint site visit to Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest.  The visit was in coordination with visitors from San Antonio and Minnesota who were in town to learn more about Denver education, with a particular focus on academic partnership. During the visit with teachers, parents and the school administration it became very clear that the school is embedded in a culture and practice of partnership with parents.  Speaking directly with one parent, she talked about how she prefers the term partnership to engagement. She saw engagement as transaction versus partnership as reciprocal. The reciprocity that she builds through partnership with the school’s educator in support of her child means she’d be willing to advocate for RMP at all levels – even at board meetings!  The academic-rich dialogue also means that parents are having direct and clear conversations about what it takes for their students to succeed.

A+ in the News

Analysis: If We’re Ever Going to Close Denver’s Achievement Gap, It’s Time to Think Even Bolder When It Comes to Teacher Incentives, The 74

Denver Teachers Need More Money. But Not at the Cost of Educational Equity for the City’s Black and Latino Students, The 74

Upcoming Events

Friday, March 8 | ALG’s International Women’s Day Celebration | 6:00 PM @ The Summit Event Center
Wednesday, April 3 | Arts Education For All Forum | 4:00 PM @ McNichols Civic Center Building

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